Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City

PETITIONER: Williamson County Regional Planning Commission
RESPONDENT: Hamilton Bank of Johnson City
LOCATION: Temple Hills Country Club Estates

DOCKET NO.: 84-4
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 473 US 172 (1985)
ARGUED: Feb 19, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 28, 1985

Edwin S. Kneedler - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae in support of petitioners
G. T. Nebel - on behalf of the respondent
Robert L. Estes - on behalf of the petitioners

Facts of the case

Hamilton Bank of Johnson City owned of a tract of land in Williamson County Tennessee and intended to develop it into a residential subdivision. When Hamilton Bank attempted to get a layout of the subdivision approved, the Williamson County Regional Planning Commission denied it because the layout violated certain zoning regulations. Hamilton Bank sued the Commission alleging that the zoning laws constituted a "taking" under the Fifth Amendment. At trial, the jury awarded Hamilton Bank $350,000 as compensation for the taking. The court issued an injunction against the Commission and awarded judgment notwithstanding the verdict denying money damages because the "taking" was only temporary. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the zoning laws denied Hamilton Bank all "economically viable" use of the land and that damages were required to compensate for the temporary taking.


Is a property owner entitled to money damages for the time during which zoning laws affect a temporary taking of the property?

Media for Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 1985 in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Estes, I think you may proceed when you are ready.

We will hear arguments next in Devine v. NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Robert L. Estes:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case comes to you after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court judge's granting of a motion JNOV.

Our position is that there is no evidence in this case upon which a reasonable juror could have concluded that the Planning Commission in this case denied the Respondent bank with all economical viable use of its property or any economically viable use that would constitute a taking requiring compensation.

To whatever extent the property lacked economic use we say was a function of the property itself, its configuration, and the prior development of that property.

Now, to give you a brief history of this, this entire property consists of 676 acres that was purchased by a prior developer to the Respondent herein to develop into a cluster housing development around a golf course.

That was begun in 1973, at which time the developers convinced the Planning Commission to... or actually, the county commission, to pass a cluster zoning ordinance.

This ordinance did now allow greater density than one dwelling unit per acre, but it did allow you to cluster dwelling units closer together provided you preserved enough additional open space area within the same development so that you still ended up with one dwelling unit per acre.

Now, this prior developer submitted a plat, a preliminary sketch plat to the Williamson County Planning Commission in 1973 and had it approved.

That would be one of the two exhibits that have been passed out to the Court.

It's contained in the Joint Appendix at 90... at page 422, Exhibit No. 9700.

Now, at that time there was a two-step procedure by which a developer could have plats submitted and approved by the Planning Commission.

First, an initial or preliminary sketch plat would be presented which contained just generally the outline of the development, did not contain extensive engineering data.

That would be looked at and determined whether or not it generally complied with the ordinances and the regulations, and then later, before a building permit was to be issued or the developer start developing, he would have to submit a so-called final plat either of the whole development, if he desired, or a section of it if he desired to develop only a section of the development at a time.

In this case, the developer, the prior developer, submitted only sectional final plats for approval.

He got about three or four of those, or three or four sections approved through the years.

The subdivision regulations in effect in 1973 provided that though this preliminary plat was approved in '73, it only lasted one year, that approval did.

It had to be renewed yearly.

It was not renewed yearly; it was renewed several times.

There was a gap from around 1976 through 1978.

Then there was a gap again in August 1980 to November 1980.

Nevertheless, the Respondent bank herein had originally loaned approximately $900,000 to the original developers.

Through a rather complicated series of events, this Respondent bank's subsidiaries or some of the banks it was associated with, went into bankruptcy court.

This bank then bought out a greater interest through a swapping deal in this subdivision turned around... well, it got title to the property, the development at that time, but turned around and sold it back to the original developer.

He kept it another three or four years until Noember 1980, at which time he still wasn't able to develop the property out, he went under, and this Respondent bank then bought the remaining interest in this entire development that had not been fully developed.

It did not buy the original part of the development.

Now, several things occurred over the years that changed the entire situation with respect to this development that the Planning Commission had nothing to do.

We say here that the plat that the Respondent bank is relying on in this lawsuit that it filed suit on, that plat it says it's relying on complies with the 1973 regulations, and it should be allowed to continue to develop the rest of the property with the '73 regulations.

Actually, the Planning Commission had amended those regulations from time to time.